Queensland woman Nicole Funnell used to love heading into work each day – until a brutal attempted robbery during a shift ended her career and left her with lasting trauma.
Ms. Funnell had been working at a Michael Hill jewellery store at the Helensvale shopping centre on the Gold Coast for several years when a male customer asked to see an expensive gold necklace on November 1, 2015.
At the time, the chain had a policy that required staff to request a customer’s identification before removing items worth $20,000 or more from locked cabinets, but Ms. Funnell was “suspicious” and asked to see the man’s ID before she handed it over, even though the necklace was worth around $13,000.
The man then grew violent, according to legal documents seen by news.com.au, and “lunged forward and grabbed the chain”.
Ms. Funnell refused to let go of the chain, and it ended up breaking in her hands due to the force of the attempted theft, leaving her with bloodied hands and injured ribs.
The man fled the scene and was never caught, but Ms. Funnell told news.com.au she still suffered from the psychological trauma caused by the attack to this day.
“I became a recluse. I’m hyper-vigilant now and I can’t stand loud noises – I flip out if I hear something behind me,” she said.
“I used to love going out but I don’t go out at night anymore and I’ve lost a lot of friends.
“It’s impacted my overall wellbeing – I used to be a bubbly, happy-go-lucky girl, but this guy just killed my life and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”
Ms. Funnell said she had never worried about robberies before the incident, and that staff were only given “flimsy” advice and training about how to manage theft or angry customers.
“That’s why I’m speaking out – employers have to understand that these days there are people on drugs like ice, and shops are left wide open with no protection for staff,” she said.
“I was middle-aged when it happened to me but if it happened to a young kid, it could end up ruining their life.
“This guy violated me – he touched my hands and hurt my ribs, and that’s the difference. He never got caught and he’s still out there. At the back of my mind I can still see his face. It’s always at the back of my mind.”
Ms. Funnell said the emotional scars had far outlasted the physical ones, and that she regretted fighting back.
“I took pride in my job and I don’t like the idea of anybody stealing; it’s just wrong,” she said.
“My advice to other people in retail would be to just let them take it – it’s just not worth it.
“If I knew then what I know now, I’d let him take the bloody thing, but it was a fight or flight situation and I fought.”
Ms. Funnell said while the botched robbery was traumatic, it was Michael Hill’s response that “hurts the most”.
She claims the store continued to trade as normal after the theft, and that she didn’t hear from her area manager until she contacted Work Cover.
“There was no phone call, no ‘how are you doing’, no thanks and that’s what hurt the most – it felt like I was just a number. I saved their jewellery, and I’ve suffered ever since,” she said.
Ms. Funnell eventually found another job in hospitality, but after some time it “all became too much” and she was forced to give it up.
She said she still got anxious speaking about the 2015 attack and said while the compensation was a bonus, it was “never about the money”.
“No money can pay for the person I was before,” she said.
Last year she took her employer to Queensland’s District Court, and she was ultimately awarded $270,439.33 in compensation last month after it was found the company had failed in its duty of care.
Shine Lawyers’ solicitor Peter Gibson told news.com.au the impact of the robbery on his client’s life had been significant.
“Prior to this incident, Nicole loved her job and her life. She was a happy and confident person. The incident has taken that away from her,” he said.
“The robbery had a detrimental impact on all aspects of Nicole’s life. Her anxiety at stages was crippling.
“Michael Hill was found to have failed in its duty of care towards our client. They should have taken reasonable precautions foreseeing that this type of incident could occur at their store.”
Mr Gibson said the case had been focused on “what had been put in place to protect employees and what the store could have done better” to prevent Ms. Funnell’s life-changing injuries.
“This is a good reminder to businesses that safety policies are crucial to providing a safe environment for employees and that policies need to go beyond just sales processes,” he said.
“For example, Michael Hill could have had a process in place that required our client to sight ID before any item valued over $2000 was taken out of the cabinet. Nothing like this was in place.”
According to a judgment summary, the court held it was “not overly burdensome” for Michael Hill to have a safety procedure in place and to lower the item value requiring identification to $2000, which is now the case.
“This would have likely avoided the injury as the plaintiff generally followed instructions and the customer would not have provided identification,” the judgement states, adding Ms. Funnell’s injuries were “foreseeable and preventable”.
Michael Hill declined to comment when approached by news.com.au.